FIFA’s got competition: 3D printed football-playing robots kick off RoboCup 2018

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As the much anticipated FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia today, there is not much that can tear our focus away from the global football (soccer) tournament, except, as it turns out, 3D printed football-playing robots. Yes, you read that right. And not only do football-playing robots exist, but they will be competing in the RoboCup 2018 hosted in Montreal, Canada from June 16th to 22nd.

The RoboCup competition has been around for some time (the first tournament took place in 1996) and it consists of pitting human-like robots against each other on a small-scale football pitch to test their defensive and offensive skills.

The RoboCup’s official goal, interestingly, is to develop football-playing playing robots so advanced that they could win a game (FIFA rules and all) against the human winners of the most recent World Cup. Sadly, we still have to wait some decades before this epic game takes place—RoboCup organizers have 2050 as their projected date.


At this year’s RoboCup competition, Australian team NUbots could be bringing the star player, a real Tronaldo, if you will. The bot, developed by the student-led NUbots team, is a one-metre-tall human-like robot capable of kicking a ball, “throwing” a penalty and waving to its fans. At RoboCup 2018, the robot will test its skills against opposing robots in one-on-one 20-minute games.

“We’ve programmed the robots to visually locate a ball on the soccer field, navigate a path to it, judge space and distance, and attempt to score a goal,” explained Alex Biddulph, the leader of the NUbots team. “Like professional soccer players, NUbots may also be inclined to drop to the ground and throw a tantrum if they miss a shot.”

The NUbot footballer was designed and developed by a team from the University of Newcastle Australia and is made up of various 3D printed parts. Printed from carbon fibre filament and onyx, the robot has a sleek black finish and high strength.

As Biddulph elaborates: “Printing with onyx gives our robots a unique black finish and the carbon fibre inlay creates a high strength to weight ratio, so they are light but also very sturdy and durable. Our NUbots were world champions of the RoboCup in 2006 and 2008 so we’re hoping to reclaim the championship title this year in preparation for next year’s RoboCup hosted in Sydney.”

Football fun aside, the RoboCup offers engineers a fruitful setting for putting artificial intelligence algorithms and coding to the test. “Artificial learning is the core focus of the competition and impact stems from the application of the software, the algorithms and the concepts behind it rather than the robots themselves,” said Associate Professor Stephan Chalup, the head of the Newcastle Robotics Laboratory.

In other words, the technology and coding integrated into the football-playing robots could actually have far broader applications in the future, including in the medical, agricultural, transport and defense industries, to name but a few.

In any case, if the World Cup isn’t quite satisfying your football needs, we highly suggest following the RoboCup from June 16th to 22nd. Go team NUbots!

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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